LOS ANGELES (WOMENSENEWS)--Like so many people, I loved the lovely little film "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." But I'm puzzled that its stunning box office success--with gross receipts approaching $160 million--is attributed to its being a "simple, family values" film. It is certainly that, and with a charming Greek twist.
The film's story focuses on Toula, a young Greek-American woman, played by Nia Vardalos, struggling with her heritage and cultural identity. The film is based on Vardalos' one-woman show. Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, saw the show and apparently liked it so much they decided to produce it through their Playtone studio.
Toula falls in love with a non-Greek and finds herself conflicted once again. Her story unfolds as she struggles to convince her family to accept her fiance, even up to the very day of her wedding. One reviewer said the film "is a funny and down-to-earth look at one woman's attempt at preserving her Greek Orthodox family's traditional values while carving out a future for herself and discovering her individuality." But there are many "simple, family values" films that wither quietly at the box office. So there must be more to explain "Greek Wedding's" runaway success. There is.
A Woman's Fantasy Film Extraordinaire
"My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is a leader in an important audience niche: women's fantasy films. The film's basic plot line is quite simple: A perfectly nice but plain-looking young woman scores the absolutely gorgeous hunk of a guy. Yes, her father's blustering Greek nationalism is hilarious. And her aunts are wonderfully outrageous. And the portrayal of a bride's private terror at a prominent wedding day zit is priceless. But the central story remains: Plain girl grabs gorgeous guy. That makes it a women's fantasy film extraordinaire. And it makes this film remarkable.
If you reverse the genders, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding's" basic plot line is ordinary. We can name the many films in which the plain, perfectly nice young man scores the gorgeous gal. Ben Stiller gets gorgeous Cameron Diaz in "There's Something about Mary." Dustin Hoffman gets gorgeous Katharine Ross in "The Graduate." Bill Murray gets gorgeous Andie McDowell in "Groundhog Day." Tom Hanks gets gorgeous Robin Wright in "Forrest Gump." Woody Allen gets gorgeous Diane Keaton in "Annie Hall." These are certainly wonderfully affirming fantasy films for male film audiences and, of course, male film producers.
These men's fantasy films of "regular guys" attaining their desires are commonplace, and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" very simply turns gender on its head. Tola yearns for a different life. She yearns for freedom. She yearns for a gorgeous guy. And in this yearning she plays out for women film audiences the frustrations, dreams and desires of women everywhere. What woman hasn't felt as dumpy and unlovable as Fotoula? What woman hasn't at times felt the same yearning for the unattainable? What woman has not had dreams she barely dreamed to dream? The deep pull of this film is that women encounter a rare glimpse of these private yearnings on the screen.
A parallel "surprise hit of the summer" was the 1991 stunning box office success of the film "Thelma and Louise." Although not a "feel good" film like "Greek Wedding," the deep pull for women was the same. It portrayed the dreams, desires and frustrations of everyday women and made that the central theme of the film. Women audiences felt Thelma's frustration of living in a narrow marriage. They reveled in Louise and Thelma's retribution toward the demeaning truck driver and relished Thelma's pure carnal delight in a grinning Brad Pitt. Women saw themselves on screen.
Hollywood's producers are missing a proven, low-risk formula. Film after film is premised on men's fantasy fulfillment. But they would be wise to take note of the simple women's movement mantra, "Women are people, too." Women, too, need and want to see their deepest frustrations, dreams and desires played out on screen, and when it is done within a charming comedy, so much the better. So when the plain Fotoula attains all that she dared to dream, our hearts soar with her.
We love the movie. That's certainly not a surprise.
Carol Head, a member of the Women's Enews advisory board, advises Internet-based companies in the areas of strategic planning, marketing and business plan development. From 1997 to 1999, she served as senior vice president of marketing for Hollywood.com and the BizRate.com.
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